So what does Obama need to do in Pennsylvania? This delegate-rich state is very similar to Ohio and, if we are to go by the previous state, Pennsylvania should go to Clinton. By how much is up in the air, because it all depends on the approach Obama takes in the state. Similarly, he can dampen the effect Clinton winning the state has on the race by taking certain approaches to the state’s results.
First, Obama’s weakness in a lot of states has been the rural area. With the six weeks he has, he needs to get into the rural areas. I know that might sound like the bleeding obvious, but it’s extremely important if Obama is going to hold Clinton to any sort of nothing lead in the state, and it’s where Obama needs to start if he is going to win the state.
As I said, Ohio is very similar to Pennsylvania. And Obama was effectively crushed in the Ohio rural areas. Obama usually has the better ground network of the two candidates, so he needs his supporters to get their roots into the rural towns. But he can’t campaign in any way that’s annoying or off-putting to the citizenry. There were reports that people in the rural areas of Ohio received past 10 phone calls from each candidate’s support team in that final 3 days. That is off-putting and annoying. Obama needs to get down on the ground often to make it look like it’s not a proxy campaign – that he is actually out there and wants the votes. Having a candidate in your town is hardly going to be as annoying as getting automated phone calls and strangers telling you to vote for someone, right?
I expect that Obama will continue his trend of winning the urban area. Places like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and the area known as the Delaware Valley are ripe for Obama to gain a majority of the delegates there. It will come back to the vast rural areas that will decide this – like Ohio. Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton – these were the urban areas that Obama won in Ohio, but he still lost the state by 7 delegates. While winning the urban areas is likely to keep things reasonable (like a 7 delegate difference), it would be best if he could infiltrate the rural areas through the surrounding counties that these urban areas lie in to turn the state into a delegate tie.
Pennsylvania is one of the two remaining states that have more than 100 delegates tied to the voting. The other state is North Carolina – expected to go Obama’s way. The polls indicate anything from 7% to 15%, but nothing nearly close to a tie, nor any polls showing Clinton in the lead. Thus, Pennsylvania is the last state that Clinton can really make a dent in Obama’s lead. Of the states that follow Pennsylvania (Guam (4), Indiana (72), North Carolina, West Virginia (28), Kentucky (51), Oregon (52), Puerto Rico (55), Montana (16), South Dakota (15)) see Obama winning 7 (Indiana, N.C, W.V., Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, S.D.) and getting more nett gains on Clinton. So, in the short term, Pennsylvania will provide Clinton with a chance to close the lead and maybe swing momentum.
Ignoring that the nett gains that Obama makes in the final 7 wins he can get will wipe off whatever gains Clinton gets in Pennsylvania, North Carolina is the only other big state left. It legitimately is a big state. 115 delegates. Guam votes before it, and Indiana on the same day. What Obama needs to do is get out and keep in everyone’s mind that Pennsylvania is roughly the same size (in terms of delegates) and North Carolina, his next win, and his previous win in Mississippi. He needs everyone to be thinking that Clinton’s win in North Carolina is something that will be wiped off come North Carolina. Obama needs to keep talking delegate maths, and remind everyone that Clinton can only come close to his pledged delegate count if she wins big in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and back that up with a string of victories in the rest of the states.
What happens if he does that? A result that is similar to Ohio (a 7 delegate difference) is a blow-up for Clinton. The papers will read that it wasn’t enough, and North Carolina is her last chance. And, with Obama leading in North Carolina, say he goes on to win, the next round of headlines will read that it is impossible for Clinton to catch Obama in terms of pledged delegates. The rest of the states hear this and start going to Obama, and come the convention, it’s on everyone’s mind that Obama has more pledged delegates than Clinton. And if the superdelegates decide this race by going with the candidate that has the most pledged delegates, than Obama has it locked up.
If he keeps talking maths, and throwing out unattainable margins in the news cycles like 65%+, 70%+, keeping Obama down to the low 30%, then he will win the battle for delegate ‘narrative’, and even a moderate win in Pennsylvania will be a loss for Clinton. Figures like 65%+ are near-on impossible for Clinton because Obama is likely to win the urban areas, students, and the ‘black’ vote. If his campaigning goes well, then he is gnawing into the demographics that delivered Clinton Ohio.
On a side note, the delegate ‘narrative’ is that Clinton cannot win the pledged delegate math. Thus, her only escape or distraction is to say that Obama’s campaign is losing momentum, direction, and is generally under-prepared to take on a national campaign. While it’s what will win over superdelegates without evidence, it isn’t enough to change anything to do with the pledged delegate maths. She needs to win the delegate war as much as Obama, but Obama has a way out: Tell everyone that each candidate leads in one of the two last ‘big’ states. They both have a big state under their belts, which means Clinton won’t be able to catch him.
Through the break, Obama needs to play further ‘mind games’ with the media, the constituents of Pennsylvania, and Democrats all over the country. Most importantly the media, because they have the most influence on this race. Those mind games are playing to expectations that he sets, not playing to expectations that the media set, or (worse still) expectations that Clinton sets. Obama needs to, by voting day, be seen as the underdog in Pennsylvania.
By presenting himself as the underdog, Obama isn’t going to have another Ohio. You see, Ohio’s results were a big disappointment because of Obama’s win in Wisconsin. A 17% win in Wisconsin meant that Obama could easily win Ohio. Everyone was beginning to think that a win in Ohio meant Clinton would be out of the race completely too. Obama quickly became the frontrunner, Clinton the underdog, and the expectation that anything other than a win in Ohio was a disappointment. What he needed to do was keep the expectations of everyone out there down, so that the result that he got (the 7 delegate difference) would have been a win.
Funnily enough, internal polling from the Obama campaign that came out the next day had the team expecting to lose by 6 delegates. A bloody good guesstimate. If that had been the expectation of everyone out there, the media and ‘people’ too, then his loss would have been a ‘loss’.
So, as long as Obama gets some sort of reasonable result in Pennsylvania, he can maintain his insurmountable delegate lead. If he is portrayed as the underdog, has everyone thinking about low expectations, a result that is even really bad for him could be presented as an understandable loss. And, combine that with his future projection in North Carolina, it doesn’t make the loss so bad. Something like a lose by 20% of the vote could be a ‘reasonable result’.
To sum up: Obama’s campaign wants to project 4 things. One, that he is the delegate leader. Two, that Pennsylvania is Clinton’s last chance to make a really big dent in his lead. Three, even if Clinton does get that really big win, he is leading in North Carolina, and he will make up any lost ground. Four, he isn’t expected to do at all well in Pennsylvania, so don’t expect much.
To make it a close race, and blow those low expectations out of the water, Obama will need to continue his domination of the ‘black’ vote, maintain his lead in the ‘youth’ vote, keep winning the urban centres, and get out campaigning in the rural counties. If he can start putting pressure on the areas Clinton has ruled in, then Pennsylvania might be very close indeed.